GENEVA (20 December 2017) – The Bahamas should enshrine the principle of gender equality in its constitution as part of a series of measures to clamp down on discrimination and violence against women, a UN human rights expert has urged after an official mission to the country.
Sex-based discrimination against women is not prohibited in all fields and the principle of equality between women and men is not enshrined in the legislation, which, in turn, results in a weak legal framework for the protection of women and girls against gender-based violence, noted Dubravka Šimonović, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, after her visit from 11-15 December 2017.
She urged the Government to adopt a comprehensive law on violence against women and domestic violence and to close other legal gaps, for example by outlawing marital rape and by tackling a discrepancy between the age of sexual consent and the age at which women can receive contraceptive and other health services without parental consent.
She said that there was no recognition of linkage between violence against women and the broader context of sex-based discrimination against women.
“Violence against women is deeply rooted in persisting gender stereotypes and patriarchy, and sex-based discrimination against women,” the Special Rapporteur said in a statement at the end of her mission. “In my view, violence against women is hidden, denied and, even more worryingly, accepted as normal.”
“The Bahamas has come a long way, but there is still a long way to go to eliminate violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, that are entrenched in a broader framework of different forms of discrimination against women.”
More education on gender equality and gender-based violence, awareness, the setting up of an observatory on data collection, and analysis were needed to help fully reveal the extent of violence against women and tackle gender-based violence, along with more shelters, especially in the Family Islands, a 24/7 hotlines and free legal aid for victims, the expert said.
“I am gravely concerned that only a limited number of cases related to violence against women reach the court for redress and accountability of the perpetrators,” she added. “I recommend the establishment of specialized courts such as a family courts or sexual offence courts to alleviate judiciary backlogs and to fast-track such cases.”
Ms. Šimonović also urged the Bahamas Government to bring its legal framework into line with international law and standards, in particular by withdrawing its reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) relating to non-discrimination against women and to nationality.
Nationality rules currently discriminate against women, as only Bahamian men can pass their nationality to a child born abroad, said Ms. Šimonović, noting that this violated women’s rights to a nationality and to equality in the family.
The Bahamas immigration policy on refugees operates on ad hoc basis without a national law. A new law in line with international standards was urgently needed, the Special Rapporteur said, warning that measures ordering “illegal” migrants, including women and children, to leave by the end of the year were resulting in the detention and quick deportation of hundreds of people, disproportionately targeting the Haitian community, even those born in The Bahamas.
“I call on the authorities to urgently speed up the immense backlog of Bahamian nationality applications for Bahamian-born individuals of Haitian descent,” she said.
Ms. Dubravka Šimonović (Croatia) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2015, to make recommendations at the national, regional and international levels on how to eliminate violence against women and its causes, and to remedy its consequences. Ms. Šimonović has been member of the CEDAW Committee from 2002 to 2014. She headed the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Croatia and was the Minister Plenipotentiary at the Permanent Mission of Croatia to the UN in New York. She was also Ambassador to the OSCE and UN in Vienna. She co-chaired the Ad hoc Committee (CAHVIO) of the Council of Europe that elaborated the Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention). She has a PhD in Family Law and published books and articles on human rights and women’s rights.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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